Since Ashley Wass was signed as Naxos' first exclusive artist in 1997, he has been exploring the solo piano and piano chamber music of several early 20th century British composers. By 2010 (the date of this release) Frank Bridge and Arnold Bax are the two composers Wass has more covered more completely. Here Wass is able to combine the two, where he is joined by the Tippett Quartet for a pairing of the Bax and Bridge piano quintets. Only 10 years separate the two works, and both have a sumptuousness of sound, a lyricism, and a passion to them, although they are distinctive in the way each composer uses harmonies and voices the instruments. Bax more frequently than Bridge uses the quartet as an opposing player to the piano, often for textural effect, and when he does use the five instruments more individually, they are often moving in different directions and at different speeds. The two violins may be moving slowly upward while the piano has rapid figures moving downward. The entrance of the strings in the first movement is a little disjointed for this reason. Bax is also more attuned to folk music than Bridge, setting folk idioms with cool harmonic colors in the middle movement. The Bridge, on the other hand, is romantically warm and lush, more ardent in a way that easily draws in the listener. Wass and the quartet play it with controlled intensity so that no one is unnecessarily swept away. Wass, especially, uses subtle shading in the slow movement to great effect. Naxos' sound is good, but just a little more depth of color for all the instruments would have enhanced the richness of these two quintets. Despite the differences of the compositional styles, this is a pairing that makes sense and a performance that satisfies.
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AllMusic Review by Patsy Morita
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